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HRC and Coalition Apologize for Silencing Undocumented, Trans Activists at Supreme Court Rally

By Sunnivie Brydum

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of LGBT people and their allies rallied on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., as the nation's highest court considered two cases on marriage equality. But amid all the excitement, undocumented and transgender activists say they were told to keep quiet. The coalition of LGBT organizations hosting the rally has since issued an apology.

The pro-equality rally was organized by the United for Marriage Coalition, which includes the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Family Equality Council, GetEqual, Marriage Equality USA, and the New Organizing Institute. In a press release, the coalition touts its numerous speakers from the LGBT community and allies within the labor, women's, civil rights, faith, and immigrant communities. But the same release also acknowledges some less -than inclusive treatment at the hands of organizers. 

"In one case, a queer undocumented activist was asked to edit his speech to hide part of who he is," explains the statement. "In another case, several activists were asked to lower the trans* pride flag in order to keep it out of the scope of TV cameras."

"We apologize for having caused harm to the individuals involved," states the release. "Apologies are being made individually and collectively and we are working to make amends."

The release also acknowledges that apologies are often insufficient to remedy harm done. Because of this, the coalition committed to the following steps:

  • "Individuals involved with the process of talking with rally speakers about the content of their speeches are reaching out to apologize for harm caused.
  • "We will build on our conversations to also seek ways that we can come together for joint action on issues of shared concerns such as immigration reform and other issues that advance equality and justice.
  • "Individuals involved with the request to lower the trans* pride flag are reaching out to apologize for harm caused.
  • "Opportunities for broader education on both trans* and queer undocumented issues within the greater LGBT community will be taken."

Jerame Davis at Bilerico says he caught the tail end of the discussion between a transgender activist and an HRC staffer at the steps of the Supreme Court.

"Through the bustle and the crowd, I could discern that the HRC staffer was discussing the transgender equality flag the young man was waving," recounts Davis. "It was clear the staffer wanted him to move or to stop displaying the flag. It was also clear that the young trans man holding the flag was at the edge of his training (and his wits) in dealing with the situation as was the staffer. The HRC staffer moved on just as we got within speaking distance, so we asked the man with the flag what had happened.

"He told us that the staffer had been harassing him about his flag and that he wasn't going to move," Davis continues. "He told us the staffer had stopped on three occasions to ask him to move or stop displaying the flag. He also mentioned that the staffer had denigrated trans issues in some manner, but I know this staffer and I cannot imagine they have any sort of anti-trans animus, so I chalked that up to a misunderstanding."

The Human Rights Campaign issued two of its own statements regarding the alleged incident. The first statement, which Davis cites in his report, arguably denied responsibility, and was made to QNotes. Now, on HRC's blog, a brief statement from Fred Sainz, HRC's vice president for communication and marketing, addresses the issue. 

"HRC joined in a coalition statement on Friday apologizing for these incidents and the individuals involved have personally offered their apologies to those affected," writes Sainz. "But to be perfectly clear, HRC regrets the incidents and offers our apologies to those who were hurt by our actions. We failed to live up to the high standard to which we hold ourselves accountable and we will strive to do better in the future. Through both our legislative and programmatic work, HRC remains committed to making transgender equality a reality."

In recent years, HRC has been working to contradict its former reputation as an organization overly focused on issues of concern to affluent white gay men, combating long-simmering charges of transphobia within the organization. HRC did not respond to a request for comment for this article. 

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